Cullen went on the run after detectives uncovered a drugs and money laundering operation he ran alongside his twin brother, Anthony
Leon Cullen who spent two years at large before he was jailed for 22-and-a-half years in May 2021, was brought back before Liverpool Crown Court and ordered to repay a slice of the money he earned through drug-dealing.
The 33-year-old who was originally from Warrington, was detained in Dubai in January 2020 after fleeing the UK in January 2018. He was brought back to the UK by officers from the National Extradition Unit on Friday, February 19.
Cullen was arrested as a result of a joint operation carried out by Cheshire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, the National Crime Agency (NCA), the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU), Interpol and police authorities in the UAE.
Cullen went on the run after detectives uncovered a drugs and money laundering operation he ran alongside his twin brother, Anthony Cullen.
They supplied cocaine and guns to other gangsters across the North West and "used violence to intimidate and control those they believed had crossed them" as well as to enforce debts, police said.
The pair used a business, Future Press Ltd, to launder money from their drugs network.
The professional, business-like operation offered a monthly wage bill of £50,000, plus bonuses of up to £10,000 and accommodation incentives also offered for so-called employees. As a result, the 20-strong gang netted profits that peaked at £290,000 each month.
Leon splashed the cash on a Maserati as his outfit supplied more than 50kg of cocaine
across Cheshire, Bangor in North Wales and the North East between June 2016 and January 2018.
But a series of dawn raids on January 10, 2018, saw 19 properties in Warrington searched and 18 men arrested.
Weapons including an AK-47 assault rifle, revolvers, silencers and more than 100 rounds of ammunition were found.
Anthony Cullen was arrested in January 2018 along with 19 associates and he was jailed a year later for 27 years.
Leon Cullen fled but was finally detained by police in the United Arab Emirates in January 2020.
He spent 13 months in custody in the UAE, where conditions for prisoners are notoriously harsh. For the first four days, he was left alone with a hood on his head in a darkened room before being transferred to a cell with 50 other inmates.
His head was shaved, and he was forced to wear robes and sandals. He was regularly assaulted by the guards and denied access to basics like tooth paste, had to brush his teeth with soap.
In February last year, he was returned to the UK and admitted conspiracy to supply firearms, conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition and conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Cullen appeared in court again on Monday under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The court heard that he personally benefited to the tune of £350,000 from the organised crime group.
A judge ordered a total of £22,830.38 to be repaid by him during the hearing, although further funds up to the total benefit figure can be taken from him in the future. A five-year serious crime prevention order (SCPO) was also imposed, ensuring he will be required to stick to strict conditions upon his eventual release.
These include a ban from associating with two other members of the gang and informing the police of where he is living and working, bank accounts he is using and any vehicles and communication devices he owns or uses. The SCPO allows him to own a maximum of two computers and two mobile phones at any one time.
Detective Inspector Rob Balfour, of Cheshire Police's serious and organised crime unit, said: “The criminal activity run by the Cullens has earned them and others at the top end of the organised crime group a considerable amount of money, from which they have lived a lavish lifestyle for a short time.
“We will keep utilising this legislation so not only do criminals have to complete lengthy sentences, their earned assets are removed and their lives post-sentence are effected by further financial restrictions until they have literally paid their debt to society.
“I think the public expect us to recover ill-gotten gains, and rightly so. They don’t want to see drug dealers profiting from their criminality and it is only right that we recover what we can.
“It’s important to highlight the powers of the POCA and SCPOs to help deter and prevent criminals from returning to organised crime, but also to young men who look up to and are influenced by people like Leon.”